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"How do you explain us being here?" he asked before Game 4 was postponed. "If you go back and examine the last five, 10, 15 years of the playoffs, there's a lot of weird stuff that happens. A lot of it comes down to which way the game goes when you get to a couple of pivotal moments. That's one of October's charms. The more you go through it, the more you realize how fragile things are."
The World Series has crowned seven different champions in seven years, a run of parity unmatched even by the Super Bowl--era NFL, supposedly sports' gold standard of balance. Selig said before the World Series that he will give some thought to placing obstacles in front of wild-card teams in the postseason, such as taking away a first-round home game, but the commissioner has come to enjoy the playoffs' signature unpredictability. Who's to say that teams such as the Mariners, Phillies, Reds or Blue Jays--all of whom finished within five wins of the Cardinals and have never reached any of the 12 World Series in the wild-card era--can't have their turn at the table next year?
"It's a tribute to the guts of this team," La Russa, in his office after Game 5, said of his club's unexpected run. Behind him sat an open suitcase, one he had packed in case St. Louis had to return to Detroit for Game 6. Among his traveling items was a book, Act of Treason, a title that might have described how an 83-win world champion might have been received in another era.
The lesson of the Cardinals actually is not so new. As Thoreau wrote in the pre-wild-card era of 1854, "I learned ... that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
Is there a success sweeter than the unexpected kind? Not if you saw how the most famous 83-win team in history celebrated or how their faithful filled the streets of a grand old baseball town into the early-morning hours of last Saturday. There was a point at which centerfielder Jim Edmonds, the longest-tenured Cardinal, cleared the clubhouse of reporters, cameras and even family members. "Now we're going to have our fun!" he said.
The Cardinals, soaked through their clothes, hats askew, leaning upon one another, half drunk and half silly, gathered around the world championship trophy for the sloppiest and greatest team picture any of them will ever know. Suddenly one of them realized that somebody was missing and dispatched a clubhouse attendant to fetch him from the field. Eckstein had been shaking hands with fans. Alerted, he ran through the dugout, up the runway steps, past the indoor batting tunnel, past the video room and through the double doors of the clubhouse to join the scrum.
Upon seeing him burst into the room his teammates cheered, "MVP! MVP!"
And with his arrival the Cards were complete. The photographer snapped the shutter, preserving this moment, this team.